Collaboration, Collaboration, Collaboration – Implementing A Positive Employment Culture

In recent articles we have looked at how to implement a positive employment culture in business.  This will help to increase employee loyalty, business growth and profitability.

But who is responsible for introducing employee engagement into an organisation?  And how can trust and engagement be maintained?

Can a strategic HR partner – such as JMA HR – implement employee engagement for you?  The answer to this is that –  whilst we can support, advice and facilitate –  we cannot make it happen.  The change in the organisation’s culture has to come from within –  from the top –  and everyone in the company has a part to play.

Living the dream

It is a bit of a cliché that you need to model the change you want to happen.  You would probably like to have a workforce which is actively engaged in improving your business.  You want them to work towards achieving your business vision and to be an advocate for your organisation.  Your attitudes, behaviours and approach  will all filter down throughout the organisation.  If you are invariably polite, helpful, and friendly to people, then you are a positive role model for your employees.  If you lock yourself in your office and discourage others from interrupting you, then you cannot blame your staff if they do not make an effort to engage with your customers.

In previous articles we have looked at positive ways of interacting with your employees.  If you show trust in people, recognise their efforts, listen to their ideas and concerns and share your vision with them, you are a model for the behaviours and attitudes you want them to demonstrate.

Implementing a positive employment culture

The individuals who have people management responsibilities (including you if you manage others) are key to the successful introduction of a positive employment culture.  Like the senior team, they are role models for the workforce.  But their role is more critical.  They will hear employee views, concerns, ideas – and ensure implementation, or answers.  They are the people in the ideal position to recognise – and highlight – small successes.  You need to provide training and development for line managers, so that they know and understand their role in achieving a high level of engagement.

Other stakeholders

There may be others within your business who have an impact on the levels of employee engagement.

If you recognise Trade Unions and have Union representatives within the organisation, then you need to partner with them. Again, they may need some training or development.  At the very least, you need to consult and collaborate with them on the best ways to achieve success.   Even if you do not recognise Trade Unions, you may have employees who are members of a Union.  Those employees will want advice and support from their Union and if you are aware of such a link, then you may want to inform the relevant Union of your intentions and the (positive) impact you are intending.  In my experience, relationships with Trade Unions work much better where the Union is considered as a partner with the business.  Everyone is (or should be) aiming for the same goal – fulfilled, engaged and happy employees.

The most important player

The lynch pin to all of this effort is, of course, the employee him/herself.  You can implement as many positive practices as possible but if the employee does not engage with you, then you cannot force that to happen.

In my experience (and reinforced by recent research), there are relatively few actively disengaged employees.  These are the ones who are seeking other employment and who are taking every opportunity to give negative views of your business.

It is far more likely that your workforce is largely made up of people who come to work every day, do an “OK” job and are not really terribly interested.  They may take another job elsewhere if the opportunity arises, but they are not actively seeking a change and may stay with you, jogging along, for years.   Think how much your business could grow and thrive if you could catch and maintain the interest of even some of these people.

Where do we start?

The key to a positive employment culture is to actually start engaging with your employees.  It sounds obvious and simple but it is, surprisingly often, the missing ingredient.   You can start by telling your employees what you are trying to achieve and why – and emphasise the benefits for them.  If you collaborate with them on ways and means to achieve their engagement, then it will start to happen.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

The Truth About Zero-Hours Contracts

In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion in the UK press about zero-hours contracts and how they are used to exploit workers.  It is rare to find a positive word and there have been calls for such contracts to be banned.

Yet the majority of people do not even know what a zero-hours contract is.  And many of those who actually work on such a basis are quite happy to continue.  So what is the truth and should you consider offering zero-hours contracts to your employees?

In my many years of working in Human Resources, I have seen examples of zero-hours contracts which work extremely well for all parties. I have also seen evidence of exploitation.  The devil, as they say, is in the detail.  As with all things that involve people, the key is common sense, flexibility and  good intentions.  Where those factors are brought into play, this type of employment contract can work really well.

By the end of this article you will understand what is involved in  zero-hours contracts.  You will know the advantages and disadvantages of using them and what the changing legal picture around them looks like.

What is a zero hours contract?

There is no legal definition of  a zero-hours contract.  It is just a contract between a business and a worker which outlines how the work is done. So for employees it is an employment contract, but unlike other contracts of employment it does not specify a number of hours to be worked.

Typically, such a contract is offered where work fluctuates and an employer cannot anticipate how many hours per week might be needed. So in some weeks there is a need for, say, 37 hours (a full-time week) and other weeks might only require a few hours – or even none at all.

The benefit (and sometimes disadvantage) of such an arrangement is that there is no guarantee of any paid work at all in any given week.  For the employer, the benefit is that they only have to pay for work when it is needed.  For the worker, the advantage is that they can fit work around other commitments.  This type of contract is popular with students who can work and still find time for their studies.  Some parents of young children or people with caring responsibilities like these contracts.  It means they can manage work to fit around family or other commitments.

The agreement between the two parties is that the business may ask an individual to work for them, but there is no minimum number of set contracted hours.  The contract states what the individual will be paid if they do any work.  It also covers what will happen when they turn down any work that is offered.  There is a statement about what will happen if there is a change or cancellation of the work.

What are the advantages of a zero-hours contract?

If care is taken with introducing a zero-hours contract, it can be a working arrangement which works successfully for everyone.

For those who have read any of my previous articles, you will know that my first advice is always to consult with your employees .  If you have the kind of fluctuating work which would lend itself to this type of contract, then talk to the individual(s) concerned.  You can agree what might work for them as well as for your business. Beware, though, that this type of contract is not suitable for everyone.

Some people value the flexibility which allows them to balance work with studying or with caring responsibilities or other commitments.  But there are other ways of providing such flexibility.  In addition, there are other considerations with regard to things such as mortgages and other personal financial commitments.  Where possible, you  should accommodate the hours which individuals tell you they need to be able to work.   This will lead to a happier workforce.

For some workers, this might not be the only job they have.  They use it as a way to top up their income without having to commit to a specific number of hours per week.   For others, it may be a way to gain experience in a specific type of job or industry.

Why are zero-hours contracts not suitable in some cases?

If you want to use zero-hours contracts, then you must ensure that you provide a contract which details what the payment will be for any hours that are worked.  You must also  agree and specify what will happen when work is cancelled at short notice.

Someone may have to make specific arrangements in order to be able to do the work on offer (childcare, for example).  It can be costly and difficult if the work is cancelled with little notice.  It is sensible to agree between you what is workable notice and what is not.  Where the notice you can give is shorter than the notice period agreed in the contract, then you may want to agree to pay compensation.   Whatever you do agree with an individual, this must then be spelled out in a written contract.  That will avoid any conflict at a later date and will  help to give the worker some confidence in the arrangement.

For some people, the variability of the work and thus the earnings can cause financial hardship and contribute to stress and anxiety.  Where people have financial commitments, mortgages, loans, etc, they need to have a regular income and zero-hours contracts cannot supply that.  They may also need to show regular hours in order to be able to access such financial arrangements.  You should discuss these things with individuals prior to agreeing a zero-hours contract.  That will help to ensure that they have taken these factors into consideration.  A failure to do this can contribute to mental health issues, such as stress, depression or anxiety.

Things to consider when implementing a zero-hours contract arrangement

There are some things which any good employer will consider before implementing such a contract:

  • Think about the nature of the work you have on offer and how it fluctuates. Will this be a short-term issue, or do you need a longer solution?  Does the type of work lend itself to being carried out on this type of contract? Does the work have to be done by a specific deadline?  Are there other types of flexible working arrangements or employment practices which might suit this type of work?
  • Consult with the individual(s) who will be impacted. Does this type of arrangement work for them?  Have they thought about financial implications?  Do they need to have a guaranteed minimum number of hours?  How much notice do they need for some work to be offered? How much notice should you give if you need to cancel the requirement to work, or change the number of hours?
  • Consider the employment status of the individual. Will they be an employee of your business?  Or will they be self-employed and providing work and invoicing direct or through a third-party?  Can they refuse work offered?   What happens if they want to do some work for other people?  Can they provide a substitute if they are not available?  Will they provide their own equipment and tools?

Other things to think about

  • Make sure the contract  is clear about the agreed terms, particularly the employment status, the payment due and any cancellation agreements. If you agree a minimum number of hours, then you must specify that. You must also include provision about the obligation or otherwise to accept work offered.
  • If you intend that the worker will be an employee of the Company, then you are required to provide an employment contract which includes terms and conditions of employment in line with other employees.
  • It is helpful for you to regularly review the situation with the employee.  This is a chance to decide whether the employment relationship has changed and whether the arrangements still work for both parties. Such review should be on an annual basis, at least.
  • You may need to provide training to line managers to ensure they understand the implications of zero-hours contracts.  They need to know how to manage the work and the individuals who are contracted to do the work.
  • You should ensure that people doing the same job, whatever their employment status, are paid comparable rates of pay.

The changing legal picture

Since 2015, if someone is employed under a zero-hours contract, then it is against the law for their employer to prevent them from working elsewhere.   So an employer cannot include a clause in a zero-hours contract which excludes the person from working somewhere else.

In July 2017, the Taylor review on modern working practices was published and the UK Government has issued its response.  Many of the recommendations have been accepted by the government and some are currently under consultation.

The two major proposed changes with regard to zero-hours contracts are:

  • To give workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, the right to request a more predictable contract;
  • The possibility of paying a higher National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage for hours which are not guaranteed as part of the contract.

Beneficial for business

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in UK has called for zero-hours contracts to be banned.  One of the reasons cited is that their research shows that most workers on zero-hours contracts feel exploited and want to be able to work more hours on more stable contracts.

Since 2017, the fast food chain McDonald’s has offered its  UK workers the option to move from zero-hours contracts.  Workers can move to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week.   McDonald’s has offered this change because some of their staff complained that they had difficulty in some financial arrangements  because they lacked guaranteed employment.

McDonald’s ran a trial across some of their sites, but 80 per cent of workers in the trial chose to remain on their current contracts.  This is in contrast to the TUC findings above. McDonald’s now offer employees the choice.

The benefit to McDonald’s has been an increase in employee satisfaction.  They believe this is because they consulted with staff about their hours.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

The Facts You Should Know About IR35 Tax Rules and Your Contract Workers

If you have had difficulty in recruiting skilled staff to undertake specific projects, then you may  have turned to the contract world.  In some industries the way to ease recruitment has been to use contract workers.  This is particularly the case in the IT world.  Technology changes fast and it is difficult and costly to keep trained employees.

I have worked in Human Resources in both the public sector and private sector for some years. So I know the difficulties employers face when it comes to recruiting technologically adept staff.

IR35 Tax Rules are coming to your contractor workers soon

The UK government is currently consulting on the intention to introduce IR35 tax rules to the private sector from April 2020.   These rules have applied in the public sector from 2017.  But many private sector employers are unaware of the rules or the implications for their business.

In a nutshell, the proposal is that private sector employers who use contract workers will become responsible for deciding whether to deduct tax and national insurance from those contractors, via payroll.  They would be classified as falling within IR35 tax rules. This would effectively give the contractors employment status.  They would be able to claim benefits enjoyed by other employees, such as holiday entitlement, sick pay, redundancy pay, etc.  They would be taxed as an employee and it would be your responsibility as an employer to deduct that tax.

What have we learnt from the public sector?

This legislation has been in effect in the public sector since 2017.  It was brought in to combat tax avoidance by contract workers.  If they  were providing their services via an intermediary (often a limited company) then they would be subject to different tax rules.  They might otherwise be taxed as an employee.   There have been some high-profile and costly cases to determine whether or not an individual is considered an employee and  what the costs of that decision are for the employer.

Contractors have been widely used in recent years as a way to circumnavigate recruitment difficulties.  This has been particularly prevalent in the IT industry, where there is an ever-changing skills requirement for projects.  There is a need for existing employees  to learn new skills regularly, in technology which may only turn out to be short-lived.  This has been prohibitive for business in terms of cost and capacity.   In such a fast-changing environment,  it has proved beneficial and cost-effective to use contractors.

What do I need to do about IR35 for my staff?

But from April 2020 in the UK, the onus is likely to fall on private sector employers to make tax decisions regarding these contract workers.   If your business relies on contractors, then you should start to consult with them now about these proposed changes.

There are various ways to determine employment status.  You will need to consider what applies to your contractors and what does not.

Some of the considerations are:

  • Do  you require your contractors to be in a set workplace at a set time.  Do you expect a set number of hours of work per week? Or can they work the hours they choose, in the place they choose to do it.  Do they have to complete a time sheet, or just raise an invoice for the work they have done?
  • Do you provide equipment (eg. computers) and do you expect the contractors to use that  equipment? Or do you allow – or even expect –  them to provide their own equipment?
  • Do you expect contractors to undertake training provided by your company for its employees?
  • Are your contract workers free to take time off whenever they want to?
  • Do you insist that they take a specific amount of time as holiday?
  • If they are not available for work (for example if they are sick), do you expect –  or allow  – your contractors to provide a substitute to do the work?
  • Do you expect contractors to work exclusively for you, or are they free to provide services for other companies as well?
  • Do you provide transport or uniforms or accommodation for contractors?
  • Can they make use of subsidised canteens or gym facilities, etc (ie. employee benefits)?

Some of your answers to these questions may be rather vague, or dependant on such things as security considerations.  The answers  will not absolutely guarantee whether or not someone is considered to be an employee.  But they are all things which can help to determine the true nature of the relationship.

 Why do I need to think about IR35?

The government consultation goes on until the end of May 2019.  Expectations on employers will be more clear once the consultation is finished.  However,  it is very likely that you will be asked to decide on whether your workers are truly self-employed or should be taxed as employees.

It is worth beginning these discussions now.  You will then be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to deduct tax from payroll and offer employee benefits from April 2020.

Start discussions with your contractors so that they know that you are aware of the implications. You can be sure they are nervous about it themselves.   A frank discussion will help you both to prepare for any tax changes and decide how best to deal with any impact on either the individuals or the business.    It won’t do your reputation as a caring employer any harm either.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Let Them Eat Cake! (Unless You Care About Their Wellbeing)

Are you concerned about the health and wellbeing of your employees?  Of course you are!  You are a caring employer and you like your employees to be well and happy at work.  Not to mention that there is a considerable cost to you each time someone is off sick.  If the sickness becomes prolonged – or even stops someone from continuing to work at all, then that is very sad and very difficult to deal with.   And sometimes it is preventable.

Celebration time is here

When birthdays roll around, or other events occur in the lives of your employees, you like to celebrate with them.  The standard celebration is for them or their colleagues to provide cake or chocolates.  Some customer-facing businesses get gifts from grateful clients.  What is easier – or more welcome – than cake or chocolates?  Suppliers, too, like to give their clients gifts from time to time.  Many is the time in the HR department when I have been on the receiving end of chocolates or cakes from an employment agency. Or a grateful employee buys cake as a thank you for the support HR had provided.  Some managers like to provide cake at team meetings.

As the employer or manager, you may even choose to foot the bill for this largesse.  The staff love it and enjoy taking a five minute break to have some cake and a chatter.  They are celebrating and you encourage this to help engender team spirit and good relationships in the workplace.

Sugar – the hidden menace

I love sweet things myself, but the awareness has slowly been dawning on me that too much of it is damaging to my health and wellbeing.  All this cake and chocolate is sabotaging the health of your staff.  Diabetes is a fast-growing problem in our world and our addiction to sugar in our food and drinks is a major contribution to this problem.  Not to mention obesity and related diseases, heart problems, tooth decay – the list goes on.   How many people in your workplace are trying to lose weight?  How many of them “cannot resist” the cake and chocolate which is inevitably on display and available in the working environment?

Stopping the rot

In my own experience, people make their own attempts to counter this influx of sugar, by providing “healthy” snacks as well as cake.  They bring in fruit, nuts, muesli bars  as well as – or even instead of – the cake. The intention is good, but the fruit goes rotten before the cake is all eaten.  The healthy stuff is usually the last to be eaten.  Alternative “healthy” snack bars may also still contain large amounts of sugar (or sweeteners, or corn syrup, or glucose – or other things which are really just sugar in disguise).

Am I suggesting that you ban all sugary foods and drinks, or that you only provide fruit?  No – that would be extraordinarily unpopular, given that this is an addiction to sugar that we all have.  It is good to indulge ourselves occasionally – and make it a real “treat” and a blanket ban would just alienate people.

No, this is a chance to really show your employees that you care, by collaborating with them about a sensible solution to this problem.

Starting the Conversation

Lou Walker, who is a workplace health and wellbeing consultant, specialising in obesity and office cake culture, has  written an in-depth report on this subject.  She has come up with eight ideas to make it easier for employers to start a conversation about office cake.  In brief, they are:

  • Create a health and wellbeing event where it can be on the agenda
  • Use, or consider having, workplace wellbeing champions to introduce the topic with colleagues
  • Start a competition for the most creative, healthy cake alternative
  • Identify individuals and teams who might be amenable to/interested in a conversation
  • Feel confident that this is appropriate. Employee health and wellbeing is your legitimate concern
  • Share Lou’s TEDx talk on the subject and ask for reactions
  • Consider a short, anonymous questionnaire on the subject (confidential, of course)
  • It may take months to implement a conversation – don’t be afraid to start small.

If you are interested in learning more about these suggestions and the subject of office cake in general, then do visit Lou Walker’s website and read her report.

Be part of the conversation.

If you think this article is useful and you would like to know more,  please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.